But You Promised …

November 28, 2023

Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 KJV

Today’s verse is from the King James Version because that’s the way most everyone has heard it. Modern translations generally help us get a better grasp on something that is confusing. But not in this case. Even the most contemporary translations can leave us discouraged and confused with this very transactional verse that seems to promise that if I train my child in the right way, he will choose to follow it, at least eventually.

The problem is, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. I know parents who have parented far more lovingly and consistently and with greater godliness than the norm, and they have been greatly confused and broken by their children’s choices. They struggle to understand why and feel great shame that they have failed in some way they still don’t understand.

The first problem is that the transactional nature of most of the Old Testament was the relationship between God and Israel, not God and us. But also, the Proverbs contained in Solomon’s writings are not promises – they are just that: proverbs. A proverb is a “short, pithy statement based on something that is generally true.” It is not guaranteed or always true. In fact, in Proverbs 26:4 and 5 apparently contradictory advice is given in answering a fool. Both proverbs are true in particular situations, but neither is always true.

Here's the whole truth. Children are absolutely most likely to be influenced most strongly by the moral and spiritual training and life of their parents. But God has no grandchildren. Each generation, each child has the right and the responsibility to choose who and what they will follow. We know that it happens the opposite way as well. Children who have been raised by even explicitly evil parents may choose to serve Christ wholeheartedly. It’s always a personal choice.

Here is a truth I find helpful. God is writing the story, and it’s not completely over until we meet Him. We may not know the choice someone has made until we are in heaven ourselves. But God is relentless. He is continually seeking. He never gives up. He can say things to your children you could never say. He cannot be ignored. He is perfectly kind, even to rebels. You and I are still sinners in need of growth and grace too. He can show us when to speak and when to be silent with grace, when to ask forgiveness, and even to accept the apology we may never receive. He can give us hope as we look to the future. He can remind us that none of us are His because we deserve it. It’s all grace. Our child is still a likely candidate for miraculous mercy.

  • Think about it: “Hold a crown above their heads and encourage them to grow into it.” Everyone grows better in the direction of encouragement rather than criticism. Pray positively. Describe to yourself and the Father how you see your child in faith. When you pray negatively, it can discourage and grow anger and resentment toward your child.